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NBC’s This Is Us has been throwing curveballs at viewers since its pilot, but few could have predicted just what the freshman breakout had in store for its first-season finale.
Sure, there were cliffhangers for the Big 3: Kate (Chrissy Metz) declared her desire to pursue singing, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) told Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) that he wanted to adopt a child and Kevin (Justin Hartley) went to meet with filmmaker Ron Howard about a movie, despite having just romantically reunited with his ex-wife Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge).
However, the episode mainly focused on Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), showing how they met and, fast-forwarding a few decades, how they decided to separate. Viewers didn’t learn how Jack died, but instead learned he had nearly robbed a local watering hole when he stumbled upon his future wife. The surprising hour concluded with an emotional blow-up between the Pearson parents that ended with Jack leaving home to stay with his best friend and, ironically, Rebecca’s future second husband Miguel (Jon Huertas).
Those revelations proved polarizing for viewers and critics. THR TV critic Dan Fienberg described the installment as a “sour note” to end the season on. However, the cast of the buzzy family drama defended the final episode Saturday when speaking to reporters before the show’s PaleyFest panel at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
“I think it was absolutely necessary,” Ventimiglia told THR. “People had kind of built Jack up to this statue of gold and, again, he’s human. He is someone who, as we saw, has made mistakes and had potential to go down a dark path, as we saw with his past. I think it humanizes him. It doesn’t make him any less beloved.”
If anything, the actor says the revelations of Jack’s rough earlier days pre-Rebecca would make him more relatable to viewers. “People will go, ‘Oh, he’s just like me because I have those problems, too,’ which is good. I think people should connect to Jack,” he said. “If everybody can connect to Jack and try and live their life a little hopeful, kind but also at the same time not let anyone walk all over them, then maybe we’d all be better off.”
Hartley echoed his sentiment. “I thought it was very human. Good people get angry sometimes and wonderful people say things they don’t mean sometimes,” he said. “Life is difficult sometimes, so to see everything crumble down around what we thought was a wonderful relationship and a perfect couple is very human and very real and very relatable.”
Moore warned viewers not to focus so much on the cause of Jack’s death going forward in the series, which has already been renewed for seasons two and three. “I’m forever proud of that finale,” she said. “I was a little bummed out that people were so fixed on trying to figure out Jack’s fate. … I feel like our show is about so much more than just that one answer. I would encourage people to just relax and breathe and let the story unfold. It’s a slow burn, but it’s worth it.”
However, it might have been Ron Cephas Jones, who plays the recently departed William on the drama, who put it best.
“It’s like they finally felt a little disappointment, but they felt so many other feelings also,” the actor explained. “I would just say ride with the wave — it’s all a part of what This Is Us is about. Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re blue. But hang in there, man, because it’s just a rollercoaster that’s coming up I’m sure in season two.”
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